Facing a fourth-and-27 in the first quarter earlier this season against Kennedy, the Paint Branch coaching staff kept quarterback Gaston Cooper on the field, and he vowed to make a play. It probably wasn’t an opportunity that Cooper would have been afforded as a sophomore or junior.
But as a senior this fall, everything has changed. Cooper leads the team in both passing (989 yards and 13 touchdowns) and rushing (301 yards, nine touchdowns), and on that particular play, his multi-dimensional gifts surfaced fittingly. He rolled out looking to pass, but ended up tucking the ball and running 41 yards for a touchdown in the 43-12 win.
“I just feel even better knowing the fact that [my senior year] is turning out, that it’s having good results, that it’s getting the wins for our team,” Cooper said last week. “Just giving us a better record and giving us a better chance for the playoffs.”
On Friday in a 54-7 win over Einstein, Cooper threw for 280 yards and six touchdowns — in the first half alone. Paint Branch (5-0, 3-0) sits atop the Montgomery County 4A East standings, having scored at least 42 points in each of its last four wins while giving up just 19 total points during that span.
Cooper had a quality junior season, throwing for nearly 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns while adding three scores on the ground, but the Panthers never quite found themselves during a 3-7 start. The season had started with two wins and looked promising before fading, and Cooper ended up throwing 10 interceptions. He’s worked to limit his mistakes as a senior — pushing for a true quarterback identity that had previously eluded him.
“We’re always thinking about [last year],” Cooper said. “It was a taste in our mouth that we never wanted again.”
The undefeated start has only Cooper’s college status. He currently holds one offer, from Bowie State, but he has also continued to garner heavy interest from Richmond, Towson, William & Mary, Stony Brook, Monmouth and North Carolina Central. All have inquired about Cooper as a quarterback.
“I’ve always wanted to prove that I’m a great passer first, and that I have the ability to run,” Cooper said. “I don’t really consider myself a running quarterback.”
NUMBER CRUNCH: 514
The number of yards Rockville quarterback Chuck Reese threw for in a 51-13 win over Northwood. Reese finished 38 of 51 with five touchdowns.
— Some Madison runners have been making the most of early mornings this fall, and the diligence helped the Warhawks cross-country team sweep the Octoberfest Invitational this weekend.
— With star running back Nigel Beckford out, Episcopal found big plays from Brian Chase and Eric Smith in a 30-21 win over Landon on Saturday.
— Here are the top passers, rushers and receivers from Friday’s area high school football games.
— In case you missed it Friday, Riverdale Baptist forward Chinanu Onuaku committed to Louisville over Georgetown and Miami.
PHOTOS FROM THE WEEKEND
VIDEO FROM THE WEEKEND
FIRST AND 17: Episode 6 – Tragedy and triumph
WHAT TO WATCH
Volleyball: No. 4 Langley at No. 6 Stone Bridge, 7:15 p.m.
Langley (14-1) has won 10 straight heading into Monday’s showdown with Stone Bridge (12-2), which bounced back Thursday with a 3-0 win over W.T. Woodson after losing two straight to Madison and Loudoun County.